Picking Apart the Draft: 2002
There is a perception among baseball fans that the first round of the June Amateur Draft is foolproof – or that it should be foolproof. In a series of upcoming articles I am going to take a look at just how successful teams have been drafting with the first 10 picks of the draft in recent years, starting in 2000 and ending in 2004. Previously, I looked at the drafts in 2000 and 2001.
The top 10 draft picks in the 2002 draft were not as bad as in 2000, nor were they quite as good as in 2001 in terms of star power. We have someone who has already hit 50 homers (Fielder) and someone who projects to be a superstar (Upton), but just hasn’t quite gotten there yet mainly due to his less-than-stellar defence. Both Francis and Greinke have established themselves in the starting rotation for their respective clubs but they look more like No. 3 starters than aces. Interestingly, seven of the Top 10 picks were nabbed out of high school as the prep crop looked a little more impressive than the college crowd.
The first 10 picks broke down like this:
1. Pittsburgh Bryan Bullington, RHP Ball State University
2. Tampa Bay B.J. Upton, SS Virginia high school
3. Cincinnati Chris Gruler, RHP California high school
4. Baltimore Adam Loewen, LHP British Columbia high school
5. Montreal Clint Everts, RHP Texas high school
6. Kansas City Zack Greinke, RHP Florida high school
7. Milwaukee Prince Fielder, 1B Florida high school
8. Detroit Scott Moore, SS California high school
9. Colorado Jeff Francis, LHP University of British Columbia
10. Texas Drew Meyer, SS University of South Carolina
The remainder of the first round, which was probably the deepest talent-wise of the three drafts we’ve looked at so far, also had some hits and misses. The best players drafted outside the top 10 in the first round were: Florida’s Jeremy Hermida (11th), Los Angeles (AL)’s Joe Saunders (12th), San Diego’s Khalil Greene (13th), New York’s Scott Kazmir (15th), Oakland’s Nick Swisher (16th), Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels (17th), Los Angeles (NL)’s James Loney (19th), Cleveland’s Jeremy Guthrie (22nd), Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur (23rd), Oakland’s Joe Blanton (24th), and San Francisco’s Matt Cain (25th). Yes, a lot of teams found value with the No. 1 picks in 2002. But that also makes the decision to draft players such as Gruler, Everts, Moore and Meyer look that much worse. And yes, I know this was the Moneyball draft, but I am so sick of hearing about it that I’m just going to gloss right over that fact.
Let’s take another look at the Top 10:
As I wrote last week, the Pirates seem to find a way to screw things up. The first overall pick in the draft is the opportunity to take the best overall available player in the nation. Bullington represents one of the worst first overall picks in quite some time… as in Matt Bush bad. Rumors persist that the Pirates scouting director wanted to take Upton, the consensus best player available, but was overruled by management, which was more concerned with the bottom line. A few days before the draft, Bullington told Baseball America he was pretty excited that he might get taken first overall:
"I don't know anything for certain at this point other than I'm under consideration. I'm just flattered that are thinking about using the first pick on me. There are some great players who have gone in that No. 1 spot in the draft. To think I might be in that same company is really something."
A number of the top pitchers chosen in the draft were derailed by injuries and Bullington was no different. Bullington also never showed the velocity on his fastball that he did in college and often worked in the mid- to high-80s. In 2004, he spent the entire year in Double-A and won 12 games in 145 innings. However, he struck out only 100 (6.21 K/9) and allowed 9.93 H/9. Bullington jumped to Triple-A the next season and disaster struck. He battled shoulder issues all season but managed to appear in one major league game that year. However, after the season he underwent surgery for a torn labrum. Bullington missed all of 2006 but reappeared for Triple-A Indianapolis in 2007. He stuff had not improved, though, and he struck out only 5.32 per nine innings. Regardless, the Pirates allowed him to pitch in five major league games. He allowed 24 hits in 17 innings.
In Upton’s pre-draft scouting report, Baseball America had this to say about Upton:
Scouts compare Upton to a young Derek Jeter, right down to the swagger. Upton is further along in his development than Jeter at a comparable age. He's more physically mature than Jeter, who developed his physique in pro ball, and has better power. Upton is just 17 and will play at that age throughout his first professional season. Scouts are curious how he'll handle the pressure of experiencing failure for the first time, since he's rarely failed at any step of his baseball career.
Interestingly, Upton never really struggled in the minors. He sat out the 2002 season while undergoing contract negotiations. As an 18-year-old, he started his career in A-ball and hit .302/.394/.445 and was promoted to High-A ball for the final 29 games of the season and he held his own. The next season he started 2004 in Double-A and batted .327/.407/.471. After only 29 games, he was headed to Triple-A for 69 games. He then got in 45 big league games at the age of 19 in only his second pro season. Upton did struggle a bit - .258/.324/.409 - but he certainly did not embarrass himself. Regardless, he spent most of the next two seasons in the minors to work on his defence as he spent time at third base and in the outfield, where he finally settled. Upton’s first full major league season in 2007 was a success as he hit .300/.386/.508 and he was still only 22 years old.
Gruler improved significantly in his senior season of high school and went from throwing in the high-80s to throwing to the mid- to high-90s. The Reds jumped all over Gruler who had solid mechanics. Regardless, Gruler broke down almost immediately. He made 11 starts in his pro debut in 2002 but pitched only 16 games over the next four years thanks to rotator cuff surgery. Gruler last appeared in professional baseball during the 2006 season.
A good ol’ Canadian boy, Loewen’s career has also been hampered by surgery – for a stress fracture in his left elbow. Unlike Gruler, though, Loewen made it to the majors before being shut down. He has a 4.98 career ERA in the majors and has struck out 7.57 batters per nine innings. Walks have been his nemesis, though, with a ratio of 5.55 BB/9. Loewen has returned from successful surgery and made the Orioles out of spring training in 2008. The southpaw is still loaded with potential and is only 24.
Everts is yet another injury victim from the 2002 draft, which explains why many of you may never have heard of him. Everts was a two-way player in high school and considered possibly the second-best shortstop in the draft (next to Upton). He was also considered almost as promising as teammate Kazmir.
With his switch-hitting ability, plus speed and stellar defensive play, Everts might be the second-best shortstop in the nation after Virginia high schooler B.J. Upton. Yet he'll almost certainly be taken as a pitcher, and one scouting director with an early pick says Everts could be the best arm to come out of the draft… Scouts dream about pitchers with his kind of quick arm action. "He's the sleeper of the whole draft," one scouting director said. "He's going to make someone very happy."
Evert’s calling card on the mound was a killer curveball, which ended up killing his elbow, as he had Tommy John surgery after the 2004 season. It was unfortunate because Evert had adjusted very nicely to pro ball and reached High-A ball in his second season, at the age of 19. Fast forward three years to the end of 2007 and Everts was still in High-A ball and posted a 4.81 ERA. He also walked 56 in 97.1 innings (5.18 BB/9). Perhaps it’s time to try a conversion back to the field?
Greinke has had his ups and downs in his pro career but the talent has always been there. He is one of those players that always had things come easy to him in baseball, thanks in no small part to above-average stuff as well as solid command and control. As a 19-year-old pitcher in High-A ball, Greinke went 11-1 with a 1.14 ERA. He allowed 5.79 H/9 and walked only 1.34 batters per nine innings. Less than a year later, at the age of 20, Greinke was in Kansas City and he posted an ERA of 3.97, allowed fewer than one hit per inning and walked only 26 batters in 145 innings. One of the most impressive things was that Greinke “got it” at an early age; he constantly took 4-5 mph off his fastball to increase the movement and control of his pitches. Then 2005 came along and, along with the Royals’ continued struggles, Greinke posted a 5.80 ERA and lost 17 games. Greinke lost some of his passion for the game the following year and spent some time away from the game before returning but he pitched in only three major league games in 2006. The Greinke of old began to work himself back into shape in 2007 as he split time between the rotation and bullpen. He posted a 3.69 ERA and allowed 122 hits in 122 innings.
Teams knew Fielder could hit. It was apparent very early on in his prep career, if not sooner. But teams also knew Fielder’s body took after his father’s. And it’s never a good thing for a 16-year-old’s body to mimic that of a 40-year-old’s… even if that 40-year-old once hit 50 home runs in the majors. Regardless, the Brewers could not pass on the younger Fielder’s prodigious power and he rewarded them by becoming part of the only father-son combo to each hit 50 homers in the major leagues. Prince accomplished the goal at age 23, besting father Cecil by three years. Prince has done nothing but hit as a pro and there have been no signs that he will struggle any time soon. However, he has one of those sluggers’ bodies that likely won’t age well.
After three minor league seasons in the Tigers’ system, Moore looked like a first round bust. He hit .223/.322/.384 as a 20-year-old third baseman in High-A ball. The next spring he was sent to the Chicago Cubs along with another disappointing youngster for reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Once he escaped Detroit’s minor league system, Moore flourished and hit .281/.358/.485 with 20 homers in a return engagement to High-A ball. He had an equally successful year in Double-A in 2006 and received his first brief taste of the majors. After spending most of 2007 in Triple-A, Moore was used to obtain Steve Trachsel from the Baltimore Orioles. He broke camp in 2008 as a back-up infielder for Baltimore but offers as much – or more – offensive potential as incumbent third baseman Melvin Mora.
The Toronto Blue Jays were salivating at the idea of choosing an advanced college pitcher, who just happened to be Canadian, with the 14th overall pick. It is rumored that they even had a pre-draft deal worked out with the southpaw. However, the Rockies came along, recognized his talent, and scooped him up. By the end of 2004 Francis was in the majors for good and the Jays organization is still waiting for its first round selection, Russ Adams (who has gone from SS to 2B to RF), to leave Triple-A behind him. Francis will likely never be a star, but he is a valuable No. 3 starter. He allows a lot of hits – 691 in 634.2 innings – but throws his fair share of innings (215.1 in 2007) and his walk totals have diminished over time (3.43 BB/9 in 2005 to 3.12 to 2.63). He also increased his strikeout total to 165 last season, not bad for a lefty that works in the upper 80s with his fastball.
Last week I wrote that I get nervous about talking middle infielders with a high pick unless they are “can’t miss” impact bats. Upton was obviously one of those, and Meyer was not. He always had talent, though, and was drafted in the second round out of high school by the Dodgers. In his junior year at South Carolina, Meyer hit an impressive .359/.411/.512 but slugged only six homers and walked 28 times while striking out 57 times in 334 at-bats. Perhaps prophetically, Meyer hit .214 and .192 during two summer seasons with wood bats in the Cape Cod League. He was also ranked 27th in Baseball America’s pre-draft talent rankings and was projected to go in the second half of the first round, not the Top 10. Meyer made it to Double-A in his first full pro season but didn’t hit for power, didn’t walk and struck out too much for a top-of-the-order hitter. To this point he has five big league games to his credit.
Check back next week when we take a look at the 2003 draft’s Top 10 picks